When Words Become Tired
It seems like a lot of words are slaving away in the Azerbaijani language. In English, we have a lot of idiomatic phrasing, surely. Maybe because I have to work to learn this language I’m noticing how many idiomatic phrases a language really uses. The reality here, however you look at it, is that there is a serious group of words here that carry a lot of weight. For example, the word baş is used all the time. It can mean head, and is used for your head or, as we also use it in English, when counting head of cattle or sheep. Beyond that, however, baş can fill in a lot of roles. For example, baş vermək means to happen, başa düşmək translates to to understand. Başa düşmək, however is also a good example of the idioms of the language. It translates directly to “fall to my head.” There is also the idiom yaddımdan çıxıb, translating to “I forgot”. But a literal translation gets us “it has left my memory”.
Another big issue some of us are finding is that concepts for which we have many words in English are concepts that garner one word in Azerbaijani. While I can say great, fantastic, wonderful, excellent, awesome, and more, here I’m really limited to two words, yaxşı and əla, and those are rather limited in scope.
I’m not entirely sure what’s happening here linguistically. But I think it’s possible to say that Azerbaijani’s use of so many idioms and lack of variety in words is a result of repression of the language during the Soviet period. Russian became the lingua franca, the business language, and the government language. Baku especially was a center where Russian was spoken more than Azerbaijani, and it still continues today. Russian is considered a language of the elites, whereas Azerbaijani is considered less so. It’s the language of the peasants, the lower class. Therefore, the Azerbaijani language suffers from a lack of development, having to rely on mixing and matching words to get a certain menaing, instead of having a word that requires no idiomatic phrasing. I haven’t been to Turkey yet, but I’m told that the Turkish language has far more word variety and less idiomatic phrasing. They regularly use unutmaq (unutmak) for “to forget” instead of the Azeri phrasing. Instead of having been repressed by another language, reducing it’s level of development, Turkish has continued to develop and keep in use many words that have fallen out of use in Azeri.